By Adam Estabrook
Around this time of year when the color starts to change in the trees, we pay attention. Most of us watch the leaves turn in real time. Others work to skip ahead, to predict when exactly we’ll see our fall colors, how vividly, and how long.
One such person is Dr. Howard Neufeld, a professor of biology at Appalachian State University. Better known by the public as the Fall Color Guy, he monitors the weather, temperature, and color activity here in the mountains, and makes predictions accordingly.
In the recent weeks, the Fall Color Guy has paid visits to the mountains, reporting his thoughts on the colors developing in the trees. These visits are documented at the Fall Color Report, with pictures and additional comments posted to his Facebook.
The Fall Color Guy notes in a September 20th Facebook post, “The mountains are now officially in a mild drought state. We haven’t had significant rain now for about 5 weeks. In general, the long-term predictions are for above normal temperatures and slightly elevated precipitation. However, there is none in the short-term so this drought situation is going to worsen before it gets better.”
One immediate effect of the drought is the early turning and shedding of certain leaves. The Fall Color Guy attributes most of the colors he saw over Grandfather Mountain to the lack of significant rain, although the bad weather affects certain species of trees more quickly than others.
Tulip poplars, American hardwoods also known as “tulip trees,” yellow and lose their leaves early in response to drought. “This is the most dramatic leaf drop for this species that I have seen in many years,” remarked the Fall Color Guy. And birches are following suit.
But not all hope is lost. Precipitation is overall elevated in the long-term, though impoverished short-term. On the long-term effects of the drought, he states, “…it takes a long time for other species to show signs of drought, so I don’t think this will have a major impact on colors this year.”
In brighter news, leaves at the highest elevations are just starting to turn, and the Fall Color Guy is optimistic about this season’s color future. “We’re having warm days, but cool mornings. I think cool nights and mornings are important for color development, even if we have warm afternoon temperatures, so although it’s supposed to be warm for the next few weeks, I think we’ll still get decent colors this fall.”
And indeed, in his latest Fall Color Report, a weekend visit to Elk Knob State Park finds signs of his prediction coming true. “I was surprised to see substantial color development beginning this weekend…We are definitely in the beginning stages of fall color development.” His report lists details of what to expect on the Elk Knob trail, from the reddening maples early on, to the golden Beech leaves best seen from the top. An array of pictures accompanies the report at his Facebook.
Keep an eye on the Fall Color Guy’s insights at his Facebook page, where he posts frequent thoughts and pictures, as well as information as to when might be best to visit the mountains and particular trails. He also posts weekly on the Fall Color Report, with detailed color updates and predictions.